Unlit Star

By: Lindy Zart

WHEN I WAS YOUNGER, I didn't understand that life was focused on what you had, what you looked like, and what others thought of you. The seventh grade showed me what reality was, and it was ugly. As I watch Rivers Young sit in his chair by the pool, I think maybe reality finally caught up to him as well. There is a slump to his broad shoulders I never thought I'd witness. Even with the distance between us, I can see that he looks broken. At least I learned at a fairly young age how cruel life can be—it took eighteen years for it to slap him upside the head.

What does it all mean?

It's a general question, but if you ask yourself it, you will already have the answer. You just know, because to you, it's whatever is prevalent in your thoughts at the time. To me, the question is about life. What does it all mean? What's the point of it? Why do we endure this journey of perpetual heartache and loss? And pain—there is always so much pain.

It changes us. The duration of our mortality is spent having instances transform us, whether we want them to or not. We're molded into some form of us only to have another moment morph us into another variation of us. It is endless. When someone asks what made someone change, I always think, What didn't?

Sitting across the deck from me is the perfect example of that.

I wipe sweat dampened bangs from my eyes and shove my aviator sunglasses back up my nose. Turning 'Dark Horse' by Katy Perry up on my Samsung, I sing along while watering the plants lining the wood deck around the pool. Swirls of pinks, purples, and whites make me think of cotton candy formed into the shape of flowers. The deck wraps around the shimmering white-blue of the water like a glove, hugging it as though to keep it warm. The yard beyond is lush with emerald strands of meadow and shrubbery. I think the only thing missing from it being a perfect retreat is a large Willow tree with its thin branches hanging down in perpetual sorrow—or not. There's enough of that around this place.

Willow trees have a place in my heart and I am not exactly sure why. I guess because they remind me of my early childhood, but also because they look so woebegone. Their straggly green branches hang down like they are crying with their very being—I suppose that's where they get their name, Weeping Willow. A neighbor of ours has one in his backyard that my brother and I used to swing from the branches of many years ago. I haven't been near that tree in a long time. That was a time far in the past; a time I sometimes wish I could return to.

For most, life isn't just simple when you are young—it's innocent as well.

I make my way around the deck, dancing as I go. There's no worry about Rivers listening or watching me—he's in his own world most of the time. As far as he is concerned, I don't exist. I suppose I could feel bad for him, and a small part of me does. He was in a boating accident a few months ago that mangled his legs to the point where he is only recently using them again, and with difficulty. He'll always have a limp. He'll always be scarred.

The reason I do not feel worse for him than I do, is the fact that, yeah, okay, everything pretty much sucks for him right now, but he is alive. He is alive and every day that I see him sitting in that stupid chair with his dead eyes, I just want to shake him and slap some life back into him. I want to yell, “What do you have to feel sorry about? At least you're still breathing!”

Of course I don't. I'm just the hired help. Plus, I don't think it would register in his thick skull anyway. When his eyes touch on me, it is as though I am not there. There is no recognition, no acknowledgment. There is nothing. I think he is so lost inside himself that nothing and no one can reach him.

The scent of flowers and candy float over to me and I grimace as I recognize the smell, glancing over my shoulder. Riley Moss hovers near Rivers, her blue eyes large and troubled. She tries to reach him. According to his mom, after his accident she was over here daily, crying and fawning over him. Now it's more of a two times a week visit. Soon it will be one, then it will be every few weeks, and finally it won't be at all. I know Riley. When she cuts her ties with someone, she doesn't just cut them—she severs them to the point of being irreparable.

Where Riley is concerned, I think of cruel laughter, taunting words, and the flipping of long brown hair—all the things I remember about her from school. And I think of anger heating my skin, my retorts, and wondering how two beings could get to the place we were. Her tongue was an arrow, I was the target, and my heart was the bullseye. Did she ever miss? Not usually.

Even now, as I look at her, I am shot through with her verbal ammunition. I glance down, expecting to find holes in my chest.

"Did you get your clothes from a secondhand store? Or, wait...did you make them?"

"Your eyes are so weird."

"The only reason you get such good grades is because you have no friends to hang out with. Of course you study all the time—you have nothing better to do."

If I was a smaller person, I would hate her. Part of me does anyway, but the majority of me cannot. I can't hate something I understand. It would be like hating a bully that you know goes home and gets abused by their parent—it's impossible. In Riley's case, though, she's the only bully she goes home to. Her life, her world, her view of herself—she created it all. No one else had to tell her she wasn't good enough the way she was because she had already decided it on her own. She hates herself. I don't know if anyone else has realized that, but I have.

I decide it's time to water the plants near them—not because I am being nosy, although, okay, I sort of am. I casually stroll their way, careful not to look at Riley. I hum 'Timber' by Pitbull and Ke$ha as I pass by, my eyes sliding to her. Damn! Why did I look at her? When I see the pain and fear in her face, my chest tightens. And that pisses me off.

How many times did she make fun of me without caring about how her words affected me? How many times did she say or do something just to see how I would react? I guess if I had never seen the nice side of her, maybe seeing the horrible side of her wouldn't have pierced me so deeply. It's hard to face a monster staring back at you when you remember they once had good in them.

I think the cruelest thing she ever did, all her many spiteful words aside, was when she pushed someone in front of me so that I tripped over them. It was one thing to go after me, but to be mean to an innocent to get to me was going too far. I helped the boy to his feet, gave him his books, and walked away without looking at her.

The next day, there were flyers all over the school stating what she had done. I might have been the one to make them—I can't be sure. The boy was George Nelson; a sophomore with a minor form of autism. The kicker is, I don't think she realized who it was when she did it, but it didn't matter. No one likes people picking on disabled kids. For one solid week she walked the halls of the school in shame. Too bad it didn't last.

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